The news today from the Sutton Trust is quite rightly focusing on the educational background of current MPs and those men and women most likely to form the next Parliament. The Sutton Trust are a charity that focuses on improving educational chances for children in the UK. Their research shows that the next cohort of MPs will probably include around 19% of Oxbridge graduates, whilst only 1% of the population at large has a degree from Oxford or Cambridge. This proportion will rise to around 28% amongst the next Conservative grouping. Whilst this is incredibly disturbing for those of us who would want our Parliament to reflect a diversity of backgrounds and life experiences, there are other statistics that are even more disturbing. They have also investigated what our future MPs have been doing since they left education. According to the data 40% of these future Politicians have spent their working life within the world of Party Political organisations. Although this is less than half of the people likely to be elected, it shows that a large proportion of these people have spent most of their lives away from what could be described as the real world. My own view is that we need a Parliament which includes Doctors such as the MP for Totnes, Sarah Woolaston and Teachers, People with a background in Business, especially those who have started businesses or worked in small businesses, reflecting a range of business types. We need people who have experience first hand how the NHS works as patients and those who have experience being dependent on benefits. We also need people from a banking background, from the armed forces. To have a small number of people who have spent their working lives in Westminster is not a bad thing but this must be in much smaller numbers than 40%. It might be more helpful to have people who have worked in local Town Halls or those who understand public services such as the Police and other emergency services, social services, the Armed Forces in roles which have put them on the front line. Finally we need people who have worked in the voluntary sector, from a range of different perspectives.
We are in the middle of a General Election Campaign and whilst the Parties are busy employing Facebook to collect emails and spending their weekends visiting communities to knock on doors and have their photos taken in political selfies they won’t have any time to reflect on the failings in terms of their own selection processes, even if deep down they do recognise the problem. Once the election is over they may well claim that all is in hand and things will be different in 2020. It is not clear what we must do to impress on them the need for change. Clearly voting for candidates whose social background and experience reflects a different mix to the dominant culture would be one way of making our views understood. I would personally like to see the option to vote for ‘None of the Above’ which of course is a very negative response to make. However it would provide a way of my vote counting when I have no confidence in any of the candidates I see on the ballot paper. Clearly asking people to stand who are from outside the Part Political system is another but this is a big ask when they are unable to benefit from any of the unfair advantage that the current system bestows on existing Political Parties. Whatever we do we surely need to do something!